I’ve been writing a whole lot on Talking Digital Photography but I’ve been letting the blog posts slide. So I’m starting the new year with an effort to keep the Blog posts active as well. My latest additions are on: Zen Camera – exploring the ideas that the book has inspired. Notebooks section – A section for photography-related but more general personal ‘stuff’ that interests me and my camera. 2020 Vision – moving my journal online with photos I don’t use on Flickr or elsewhere.
There’s a definite link here from the Daily Practice of shooting anything that catches your eye. Something catches your eye? Take a shot. Don’t stop to think, just snap it. This is moving towards the Zen state of the uncluttered mind. It is called Mushin in Zen meditation. But you don’t need to be someone who meditates regularly in order to get the most out of this book and these ideas. There are other ways get into a state of mind that will enhance your photography.
Escape the tyranny of the ‘urgent’ We have all experienced the sense of overload that modern living brings. So many things vying for our attention – sounds, images, mental To-Do lists, emails, TV and radio. Add to that the constant pull of social media and keeping up with the news, our friends, the latest video to go viral. The stream of interference is like constant chatter in our ears and eyes – and into our brains. Turn off your mobile phone, turn off the Wi-Fi and there is an uneasy sense that you are isolated, cut-off from the world. According to researchers we are spending more and more time living through a computer screen (whatever the screen size) and that means less and less time to encounter the real world around us.
The Quiet Mind If we want to photograph the real world around us, we need to spend more time in it – and nowadays that means taking conscious steps to interrupt our normal crowded ‘noisy’ lives – to turn it off so we can see clearly and with fresh eyes. We need to be alone, not just physically alone, but away from the intrusion of the everyday world. We need a quiet mind that can allow us to live in the moment, and see, hear, smell, touch and enjoy what is all around us. It is the kind of stillness and peace that allows us to see clearly and simply through the lens, and without the lens.
And that might mean that we spend a whole lot of time just ‘being’ in the place we want to photograph. Just sitting and looking, relaxing and breathing, can be as valuable as the time spent shooting. So many photographs say little except ‘I was here’. But there is so much more to say. We can begin to discover our own ‘voice’, our own ‘eye’ – by developing an ‘open mind’ and the subtle exchange an open mind allows, between the photographer and the photographed. That is what makes wonderful photographs!
Artists know that what they paint reveals as much about themselves as about the subject. Photography is no different – it is about you as much as about what you are shooting! [This theme of looking inwards and looking outwards is followed in the section called Mirrors and Windows (link) ]
But first let’s follow up on the quest for the quiet, open mind. There’s a lot of talk of ‘mindfulness’ online, with guided meditations to follow. It is the latest descriptive way pointing to the ancient quest for Mushin, ‘no mind’, as Zen Buddhism describes the perfect stilling of the busy minds we all have. There are many ways to help you move towards the ‘quiet mind’ – my own favourite is Tai Chi, which is a moving meditation focusing both body and mind on the slow, ritual movements of the ‘Form’. The little figurine at the top of this page is performing Tai Chi. Other senses are used in other meditative rituals: incense, bells and chanting a mantra. Many systems use beads both to count and to focus the attention.
To incorporate a regular system into your daily life is immeasurably positive in all manner of ways … but if that is not possible there are other ways that the quiet mind can be encouraged by the photographer ….
Sound is an important element. Sitting or walking by water is powerful. The gentle sound of waves lapping against the seashore or lake-shore, breaking against the rocks – a rhythmic sound that is close to a mantra. And a beautiful place to capture with your camera too. Or the wind rustling through the leaves of tall trees, a gentle, rhythmic sound again.
Sight is another sense that can stimulate the calm we seek. Watching a sunset. It takes time and stillness to just sit and watch the progress of the light as the sun moves towards the horizon. Just sitting and absorbing the slow changes … not photographing, but just becoming part of the experience. Clouds can offer the same slow and gentle, absorbing experience as they move across the sky. Lying on the grass, and watching the stately movement of clouds can still the mind and clear it of the ‘noise’ of everyday life.
And this leads into the next section. Most of the ‘noise’ that is in our heads is words, we think in words, so much of the ‘chatter’ is us talking to ourselves, and what we want to achieve is to see. To paraphrase the song – “I can see clearly now the rain has gone” – for the photographer it might read – “I can see clearly now the words have gone”. So, on to “Show – Don’t Tell” Back to the Zen Camera cover page
Recently this book caught my eye. Well, it was the title that caught my eye first, as anything ‘Zen’ always draws me! And then it was the book cover, with a long-exposure shot of the seashore and the sky in black and white – elegant, uncluttered, with a Zen feel to it. I was curious to find out more!
Disclaimer: I am not advertising this book. I don’t know the author or the publishers. My interest is purely in my own interaction with the text and the enjoyment and illumination I have gleaned from reading it and following the exercises, albeit in my own way!
I’ve been seriously engaged with my camera(s) for 7 years now, and I am always on the lookout for ways to refresh my photography, to quite literally keep my photography ‘fresh’. Usually I collect books centred on the work of famous photographers, past and present, or on a specific area of technique – but this promised something rather different. Book shopping for me has to be online, as I live a little too remotely to access a bookshop – so I read online reviews and decided to take the chance, and bought it. Not a Kindle version, but the real thing, as I do still love the physical experience of a book – and this one looked like the design and physical layout might be rather special, and an experience not to be missed!
I have not been disappointed. More than a month on and I am still revelling in the first two ‘lessons’, reading and re-reading, and engaging with the text and the exercises that round off each lesson. There is so much to enjoy, to think about and ponder, so I decided to write about it all as I go along. My division of topics here will follow the six lessons of the book, but picking out parts that resonate especially for me.
1) Daily Practice I expected to skip these first steps that are designed to get the reader into the habit of using the camera every day, regularly, to snap everything that catches his/her eye. To start seeing as a ‘photographer’. I do something similar already – but I was surprised when I took a trip down memory lane!
2) An Open Mind Getting into the ‘zone’ – the right frame of mind for the ‘magic’ to work. For me this is the centre of the refreshing experience I want to find through the book. Mushin is the Japanese name for the state where the mind is calm, uncluttered, no distractions, no rush.
3) Show – Don’t Tell Learning the language of photography. This set me pondering the wider implications of the question – why don’t we teach our children visual literacy? We teach them verbal literacy – to speak, read and write. But where is the teaching of how to see?
Back to Basics Section. A look at Ulrich’s 5 basic elements that together give us the visual photography ‘tools’ we use every day. He divides it into: The Frame – The Light – The moment – Colour and tonality – Treatment of the subject. Sounds easy and straightforward! But the elements are all interlocking, and each covers a whole lot more than you think! So I’ll still use Ulrich’s division – just separating out one more element, Composition, to look at in depth. And to make it easier to navigate through the elements I’ll split them into 1 or 2 elements per page, then link on to more in-depth pages. That way you can take a quick look, and move on – or click through and go a bit deeper. So:
4) Back to Basics 1 – This covers The Frame and Composition. Just a few thoughts on both, and how I think of them and use them myself. Then there are extra pages that delve a little deeper into these two areas: a) The Frame – and how to use it b) Composition – and some thoughts on shooting trees and ‘still life’ c) Negative Space – some more thoughts on composition
The Bow Fiddle Rock is near to Portknockie, a small cliff-top fishing village on the Moray coast between Findochty and Cullen, that overlooks the Moray Firth. The sea around Portknockie is home to dolphins and many sea birds. and it is where the Bow Fiddle Rock can be seen and photographed. The rock is so called because it resembles the very tip of a bow. It was formed by erosion of a rock called Cullen Quartzite which is one of the many types of quartzites found around Scotland. Cullen quartzite is about 2500 metres (8000 feet) thick and makes up the coastline from Buckpool (the west end of Buckie) to Logie Head, the main headland east of Cullen.
As you leave the village and walk towards the Bow Fiddle, you can clearly see that the entire coastal cliff structure has the same steep downward angle. This has been formed over many millions of years, and is visible evidence of the fact that Scotland and England were once part of different ‘continents’ that collided and made the distinctive Scottish Geology and geography!
I’ll let Scottish Geology.com explain “Quartzite is a metamorphic rock, which means that it has been altered in nature by heat or by pressure. It was originally sandstone laid down in layers under the sea around 750 million years ago. More and more sediment piled up on top until the sandstone was buried several kilometres down, and as the pressure from overlying rocks built up, and heat from the centre of the Earth rose into the crust, the grains of silica in the sandstone were crushed and welded together to form the much harder rock called quartzite.
Movements of the tectonic plates which make up the surface of the Earth also had an effect. Scotland lay on the edge of an ancient continent called Laurentia, and another continent called Avalonia, on which what is now England lay, was carried towards Laurentia and eventually the two continents collided. The result was to crumple and fold the strata of rock, which is why the rock layers making up the Bow Fiddle Rock slope down to the south.
Over millions of years the overlying rocks were eroded away again, and the Cullen Quartzite became exposed at the surface, where the sea and the weather began to attack weaker spots in the rock and carve out the arch we see today. The sloping layers can be traced on to the land from which you first see the Rock. From further east along the clifftop, you get a completely different view, where you can see that the Rock is a long sloping slab of rock. source: Scottish Geology.com
As you walk along the cliff top path, the Bow Fiddle rock begins to appear, very much aligned with the mainland cliffs. You can walk round the headland, or scramble down the narrow track to get a sea level view.
From the seashore the rock towers out of the water, and the surrounding sound is of the seagulls and other birds that inhabit the rocks and cliffs all along this stretch of coast. When I was shooting these photos the sea was calm and tranquil, and the midday sun cast strong shadows.
Once you have seen the effects of the massive collision between the two continents, you can recognise the distinctive sloping layers and steeply angled rock formations all along this stretch of coast.
Last week we took my old car to the car wash. I admit it is probably more than 5 years since I’d been through the strange experience of sitting in a car while the automated ‘wash and brush up’ whirred, rattled and rolled all about me. As I had my iPhone with me I decided to shoot the experience from the inside. After all it might be another 6 years before I get the chance again ;o) The whole process only lasted about 10 minutes, but I think I took over 60 shots. It was an ever changing kaleidoscope of almost abstract visuals – and enormous fun! Too many shots to share here, so I’ve posted the best ones on this page: Car Wash I think I’ll go back before another 5 years slip by!
“A quick wash and brush up, Madam – to refresh the exterior?”
Last week we took my old car to the car wash. I admit it is probably more than 5 years since I’d been through the strange experience of sitting in a car while the automated ‘wash and brush up’ whirred, rattled and rolled all about me. As I had my iPhone with me I decided to shoot the experience from the inside. After all it might be another 6 years before I get the chance again ;o) So here is the journey into the surreal world of car wash. We were quite relieved to find a car in front of us, as we couldn’t remember how it all worked – so we learned as it went through ahead of us.
Once in the machine daylight vanishes. For an alarming moment you feel you might be in a crusher, as it feels the car body to estimate its size.
And then, goodbye world – hello soap! An amazing array of soapy abstracts began to unfold across the windscreen……
Then it really got interesting, and just a little scary (it was so long since I’d been there) The ‘brush up’ was beginning……
But I was absorbed in the drama that was playing out on the screen before my eyes. Soap suds and that giant brush…..
Then a quick rinse, and the world beyond the car wash was suddenly there again – but at the bottom of a watery pool…..
Meanwhile the brushes were tackling the sides of the car. The inside was getting hot and the windows were steaming up…..
And I found myself shooting myself in the side window …..
Then on to more wonderful watery distortions as the rinsing off began…..
And some great abstracts of the brushes. almost an oil painting…..
And the final stage – bring on the hair-dryer! Another crazy sequence of ripples…….
Finally the world outside starts taking shape again…….
Yes – the sun is still shining out there, though it looks like a heavy downpour from here…….
The whole process only lasted about 10 minutes, but I took over 60 shots. It was an ever changing kaleidoscope of almost abstract visuals – and enormous fun! I think I’ll be back before another 5 years slip by! There’s more to see on my Blog section and more articles: Talking Digital Photography
Spoilt for choice at the opticians recently, getting new specs. As usual I have a camera with me – not just the smartphone – but small enough to be reasonably inconspicuous! And they kindly allowed me to shoot the displays while I waited. The array of frames is quite dazzling, and I was indeed spoilt for choice. Should it be big, bright and bold? Or maybe rimless – how about Harry Potter completely round and owl-like? I caught my reflection here in the full length mirror, surrounded by just some of the choices. Shot with the Lensbaby Sweet 50 optic, which gives an in-camera fly-away effect to the shot. On Flickr you can find my Album of Sweet 50 photos and more about the Lensbaby if you feel like exploring an interesting way of looking at photography.
I do try! Try to live the paperless life! I’ve got an excellent list-making app on my smartphone and on my laptop too. And they sync for added convenience. I’ve got Notes apps too. But I keep returning to my first love – actual paper notebooks! Oh … and Post-It notes as well I just love having real paper, and yes! a fountain pen too. I so enjoy discovering a new notebook – my latest find is Conceptum. A6 size and a pen loop for my favourite fountain pen. Purple ink this year. I stick in cut-out images, ideas, poetry and quotes I’ve picked up and enjoyed. I try to make it attractive, so I can enjoy it visually as well. Maybe I am just being old-fashioned and out-of-date? But this seems to be one battle that technology just can’t win – at least not with me ;o)